You’ve probably heard about sleep debt – but what is it? And how does it affect your physical and mental health? We have some answers that might surprise you.

Get the skinny on sleep debt

Sleep debt happens when the amount of sleep you get is less than the amount of sleep you need to be healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that one in three Americans don’t get enough sleep. That’s 40 million in America alone that are feeling the effects of sleep debt daily.

If that isn’t enough to get your attention, consider this: The American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society recommends that adults aged 18–60 years get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night on a regular basis to promote optimal health and well-being. When was the last time you got a healthy 7–9 hours? If you’re like most other Americans, it’s been a while.

It’s just a few hours of missed sleep… right?

The hours without sleep can add up after a of time. While it may seem easy to brush off sleep debt and replace those hours with an extra cup of coffee, sleep is far more important to our health than most people give credit. Sleep is when our bodies repair, restore and rejuvenate, growing new muscles, repairing damaged tissue, and synthesizing hormones. The function of the nervous, endocrine and immune systems all depends on our state of sleep. Our brains use this time to sort out and process the incredible amount of information we take in every day. Sleep is vital to maintaining mood, memory and cognitive functions.

In the short term, sleep debt can lead to fatigue, impaired function, and irritability. In the long term, it can result in a wide range of health problems, including weight gain, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and stroke, depression, and increased risk of death. Sleep debt can also cause weight gain. Still think that not getting enough sleep is no big deal? Think again.

Repaying Your Sleep Debt

We’ve all experienced nights where we don’t get the sleep we need. Chances are you’ve had trouble sleeping due to:

  • Loud noises (passing by traffic, barking dogs, loud machinery, construction work, etc.)
  • Emotional stress
  • Sleep disorders (insomnia, restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, etc.)
  • Certain types of medication
  • Busy and inconsistent schedules
  • Caring for young children, infants and pets
  • Extensive travel

How do you go about repaying your sleep debt? You might be tempted to think that sleeping in on the weekend would be a good way to get caught up on your sleep, but really that does more harm than good. Sleeping in late on a Saturday can throw you off your natural sleep rhythm and make it hard to fall asleep on Sunday night. You could actually end up starting the new week with even more sleep debt!

The best way to end sleep debt once and for all is to get into a regular cycle of seven to nine hours of sleep a night or find a healthy way to make up the hours during the day. Here some tips that should help you get caught up on your sleep debt:

  • Create a sleep space – a dark, quiet and cool place with a comfortable bed – where electronic devices and other distractions are not allowed. Why get rid of the electronics? They emit blue light – which the brain responds to the same way as it does to sunlight, preventing the release of melatonin, a hormone that is crucial to sleep.
  • Exercise your right to nap – Naps improve productivity by 40%, so if you’re feeling like you didn’t get the amount of sleep your body needs, find a space to catch some mid-day Zzz’s.
  • Go to bed early rather than sleep late – get a head start on the day. After all, the early bird catches the worm.
  • Hold yourself accountable to a consistent bedtime and wake up time
  • Avoid caffeine, heavy meals and alcohol in the hours before bedtime
  • Exercise regularly in the mornings or late afternoon.
  • Consult your doctor if you feel the problems sleeping may be caused by a medical issue

If you haven’t taken a nap in a while because you’re stuck at a job all day, or maybe you have kids in tow, consider finding a safe napping facility to take a snooze. The Nap Bar is Houston’s only napping destination with hospital-grade cleanliness. It’s the perfect place to reduce or remove sleep debt from your life. Twenty minutes is all it takes to feel recharged and ready to go. Busy professionals, entrepreneurs, tourists, students, stay-at-home parents or anyone who needs a snooze can benefit from a nap.

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